Aaron, Ashley, and Joseph pose with rescued shelter dogs, Jasper and Athena. (Photo via Jess Ritchey)
Aaron, Ashley, and Joseph pose with rescued shelter dogs, Jasper and Athena. (Photo via Jess Ritchey)

VAN WERT – Athena, a deaf pit bull mix, had spent over 800 consecutive days in the Van Wert County Humane Society shelter before Ashley Sawyer, her husband Jarred, and her sons Joseph and Aaron came along and gave Athena a chance. Athena was adopted in July of 2018.

“My husband and I had a chocolate lab first; his name was Diesel and he was our first child,” said Ashley Sawyer. “We had him for 13 years and then he passed. It was really weird not having a dog.”

Sawyer and her family visited the VWCHS shelter, where she first saw Jasper, a young pit bull. They adopted Jasper in July of 2017. A few months later, they adopted their cat, Kit-Kat. Then, around a year later, the family felt they had room for another.

“I had had my eye on Athena for a while,” said Sawyer, who knew Athena was deaf but didn't know what taking care of her would entail. “My sister has a white deaf pit bull, so I asked her if it was hard taking care of a deaf dog.”

Sawyer and her family quickly learned that Athena had to be taught in different ways. Athena learned commands through hand signals, and when the family first brought her home, they used a collar that vibrated to help get her attention.

“Athena is deaf, but she definitely thinks she is the boss,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer urges people to give shelter dogs a chance, even when they have been there for a long time.

“You have to give them time; you can’t just take them for just a little bit and then decide it’s not going to work out,” said Sawyer. “It’s a child; we’re going to have these dogs for a long time – for their life. I can’t give my son away when he’s back talking, so I wouldn’t give my dog up.”

When the Sawyer family brought Athena home, she was considered nearly “feral” because she was lacking a lot of basic skills and had few to no manners.

“When she first came home, she was wild, very wild,” said Sawyer. “Now she’s rambunctious, but she can calm down. It all comes down to the owner; you have to be consistent.”

Sawyer said it took a long time, nearly six months, for Athena to adjust to the home setting.

“Give it time,” recommended Sawyer to those looking to adopt a shelter animal. “At least six months; it takes a while for them to get used to you and for you to get used to a dog if you’re a new dog owner. Even if they have issues, you can teach them.”

Shelter volunteers noted that Athena was often overlooked in the shelter due to her being a deaf, middle-aged pit bull. Her behavior issues also put a strike against her. With time, patience, and training, the Sawyers were able to give Athena a new life.

“I just felt like she needed a chance,” said Sawyer of why she chose Athena.